Immigration Law

HHS OIG on Separated Children Placed in Office of Refugee Resettlement Care

HHS OIG, Jan. 2019

"What OIG Found

 In the summer of 2017, prior to the formal announcement of the zero-tolerance policy, ORR staff and officials observed a steep increase in the number of children who had been separated from a parent or guardian by DHS (“separated children”) and subsequently referred to ORR for care. 1 Officials estimated that ORR received and released thousands of separated children prior to a June 26, 2018, court order in Ms. L v. ICE that required ORR to identify and reunify certain separated children in its care as of that date.

 In July 2018, ORR certified a list of 2,654 children that ORR believed to be separated from parents who met the Ms. L v. ICE class definition. ORR determined that an additional 946 children had some indication of separation in one or more data sources used to compile the certified list but did not meet all criteria for inclusion at that time.

 Between July and December 2018, ORR staff received new information indicating that some children who had been in ORR’s care as of June 26, 2018, and whom ORR had not included on the certified list had, in fact, been separated from a parent. In October and December 2018, ORR conducted formal reviews that resulted in adding 162 children to the list reported to the Ms. L v. ICE court; ORR also determined that 79 previously reported children had not actually been separated from a parent, for a new total of 2,737 separated children of class members.

 From July 1 through November 7, 2018, ORR received at least 118 children identified by DHS as separated when referring the child to ORR care. However, DHS provided ORR with limited information about the reasons for these separations, which may impede ORR’s ability to determine appropriate placements.

What OIG Concludes

 HHS faced significant challenges in identifying separated children, including the lack of an existing, integrated data system to track separated families across HHS and DHS and the complexity of determining which children should be considered separated. Owing to these and other difficulties, additional children of Ms. L v. ICE class members were still being identified more than five months after the original court order to do so.

 It is not yet clear whether recent changes to ORR’s systems and processes are sufficient to ensure consistent and accurate data about separated children, and the lack of detail in information received from DHS continues to pose challenges.

 OIG encourages continued efforts to improve communication, transparency, and accountability for the identification, care, and placement of separated children."